I didn't know quite what to expect when I headed to Central Park to see "The Wiz: A Celebration in Dance and Music," but clearly, just about everyone else in jam-packed Rumsey Playfield did. Hundreds were lined up for seats more than an hour before the show began, and the energy was electric. Many were undoubtedly friends, family and former cast members of the show, primed to support the performers from the moment Tony award-winning choreographer George Faison emerged to introduce this festive homage to The Wiz's 40th anniversary. Audience members screamed, applauded and jumped up and down in anticipation of the performance, which brought together some of the cast from the ground-breaking 1975 show, others who appeared in later versions of the show, and some new cast members, as well.
Dee Dee Bridgewater, who won a Tony for her role as the original Glinda, Good Witch of the South, gladly reprised her part at Faison's request, as did André De Shields, the original Oz, and Ebony Jo Ann, the original Addaperle (Good Witch of the North). Phylicia Rashad, a munchkin and swing in the original production, co-hosted the performance with Faison.
Unfortunately, the press were relegated to bleachers that were quite far from the stage, making it difficult to for me to experience the full intensity of the show. From where I sat, the ensemble dance numbers seemed underrehearsed and therefore less powerful than they might have been. One notable exception were the poppies, the female dancers who seduced the Lion (Reji Woods). The ensemble was made up of the dancers from the original show, who reprised their roles for this routine. Again, although it was difficult to appreciate the sequence from a distance, just knowing that the dancers were willing to break stereotypes by performing it was a thrill (so many people tell me they're "too old" to perform, dance, work out—fill in the blank; these women clearly did not succumb to that kind of self-stereotyping). Another dance highlight was the Tin Man (John Manzari), who literally shined in his tap routine.
The original choreography—for which Faison was the first African American to win a Tony—felt a bit campy at times, but for the most part, as Faison said in a pre-performance interview, it "held up very well." He conceded a few "minor nods" to today's dance styles, but these were barely discernible.
The most amazing parts were the vocals—loud, clear, heartfelt, chills-inducing. The role of Dorothy was shared, and both performers are powerful singers. Darlesia Cearcy blew the audience away with "Soon As I Get Home," her first big number in the show. Inaya Day, the other Dorothy (she played the role on Broadway in 1993), delivered a breathtaking rendition of "Be A Lion" and drew a much-deserved standing ovation for the show's finale, "Home." Kudos, too, to Bridgewater, for the formidable, "A Rested Body is a Rested Mind," and to De Shields, who convincingly sang "Believe in Yourself" and managed to dance energetically as part of the number, "Y'All Got It." All in all, as my colleague remarked at the end, "this was truly a New York experience!"
After its Central Park debut, this Wiz revival also played in Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem. Will it go on the road? "We would love to tour a version of this show; however, that depends entirely on NBC TV and Cirque De Soleil, and how they feel this version would or would not fit into their plans for The Wiz," Faison said. Both media heavyweights are planning to produce new versions of the classic, extending the legacy into 2016 and beyond.